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[ed. note: Penn’s unique collections are used every year by countless scholars and students, beginning with today’s piece we will periodically feature posts from some of these researchers.]

Front Cover of Ann Perrin’s Friendship Album, now Penn Ms. Coll. 369

Watercolor paintings, pencil drawings,  advice essays, and poems by both famous and obscure poets, as well as the signature of a different person on each page…they’re all in the album of Ann Perrin in Penn’s special collections. Perrin’s album is a friendship album, a book for friends to leave any sort of contribution along with their signature.  Friendship albums are a little-studied media that became popular in the United States in the antebellum era.

These albums are obscure enough that most library catalogues do not have a unique subject heading for them; Perrin’s is titled a commonplace book and also catalogued as an autograph album.  Friendship albums are in fact a creative melding of these two genres.

Ann’s album is typical of the genre in its variety of entries and signatures from both men and women, family and friends.  Women—and some men—kept friendship albums from young adulthood onward, and the signatures in Ann’s album include dates ranging from 1824 to 1866.  It was a keepsake, then, which grew with Ann and her circle of friends and family.

We don’t know who Ann or most of the signers were, but we can learn about about her circle from the album [1].  As in many albums, some of the entries are on Christian themes and testify to Ann and her friends’ faith.  Her circle was also interested in extolling the role of women as caring figure vital to smoothing over life’s cares.  Some friends copied popular poems that testified to the importance of friendship and remembering absent friends. The poem from the opening page of the album, for example, testifies to the circulation of the volume amongst friends with its clever admonition to both return and contribute to the book:

                                                  If Thou, art borrow’d by a friend Right welcome shall he be.
To Read to Study, not to Lend,
But to return to me.
Not that imparted knowledge doth
Diminish learning’s store
But books I find when oftimes lent
Return to me no more.
Read slowly, pause frequently,
think seriously, and
Return duly
with
Contributions [2]

Rather than writing personal testimonies of their friendship, most men and women chose pieces written by others in the way we might choose an appropriate greeting card to express our sentiments today.  The authors these friends chose pieces from were a bit more esteemed than greeting card authors today—Ann’s album includes excerpts from works by William Cowper, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Alexander Pope, and Madame de Stael.

-Cassandra Good

Dr. Good recently completed her PhD in History at the University of Pennsylvania with a dissertation on friendships between men and women in the early American republic.  She is now the assistant editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington

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[1]

Among those mentioned in the album are Richard Perrin (?-1844) and Lucretia Perrin (?-1841) of Elizabeth, New Jersey as well as others from the mid-Atlantic United States.

[2]

A popular poem of obscure origin which became popular in the 19th c. for use in bookplates. For a few examples see here, here, and here. The writer has modified the last line to read “Return duly with contributions”  (fitting for the genre of friendship albums) instead of the more common “Return duly, with the covers of the pages not turned down.”